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The Worms that Ate New England

    From Massachusettes to Maine, New Englanders have been facing an unusually gross problem this summer: army worms. Actually a species of caterpillar, army worms travel in enormous swarms, munching homeowners' lawns and farmers' fields, causing enormous damage as they go. A moving mass of grossness, there can be as many as 150 squiggling, squirming, hungry worms per square foot of land. There are so many, in fact, that they can chew an entire lawn down to the ground overnight.

    The adult female moths that laid the eggs were probably carried to the northeast by a series of severe thunderstorms. Each female can lay hundreds of eggs. When the eggs hatch, the tiny caterpillars emerge and begin to eat. They start out tiny and green, but soon grow to be a striped brown worm about an inch and a half long. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of army worms are now eating their way across the landscape, usually feeding at night and sleeping during the daytime. Some homeowners say it looks as if their entire lawns are a writhing mass of worms. Where the worms cross roads, drivers report a black mass that resembles an oil slick--especially after thousands of the worms have been squashed flat by car tires.

    Soon the worms will be done feeding, and will burrow underground where they will spin cocoons and emerge in a few weeks as moths--millions of them. Then the entire cycle will begin again. State officials aren't sure where the new moths will lay their eggs, but they're worried the entire problem could start all over again--and the next outbreak could be even worse.

    Lawn damage is unattractive and inconvenient, but even worse is the damage that farms have suffered. Hay, corn and other crops have been decimated by the hungry worms. Farmers say with all their hay gone, their dairy cows may not get enough to eat, and will produce less milk. That means instead of "Got Milk" we might all be saying "Got Worms"!



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